“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Words

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I love writing.  I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.

–James Michener

Words have always had an outsized place in my world—reading, hearing, pondering, analyzing the words of others while using, manipulating, playing with words myself.

In college, I was a member of a competitive debate and public speaking team. We traveled the Northeast, competing against other college teams and spent all our time figuring out ways to use our words more effectively.

In grad school, I studied rhetoric and public address, the ways humans use language to shape ideas and other humans.

As an academic, my field of study was the power of protest rhetoric, especially the uses of protest song, to advance a cause.

As a college prof, my focus was teaching my students the skills to critically evaluate the persuasive messages directed at them, to recognize why some messages moved them and others failed to.

This love of words didn’t end with the speaking of the words or the straightforward writing of them. One other way my fascination with words was displayed was through calligraphy—the actual “swing and swirl” of the words as they go onto paper.

I can remember practicing my handwriting as a child and teenager, wanting to make it more interesting.

I picked up little flourishes from writing I saw and made them my own, the most self-consciously cutesy of which was this:

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Love to swirl that “d” back over the word “and”!

But I didn’t stop with my everyday handwriting—more formal calligraphy took up a lot of my time. I had all the fancy pens and parchment paper and inkpots.

I practiced incessantly and I did pieces for family and friends.

When I needed my Master’s thesis typed, I made a deal with a friend. I addressed about 100 wedding invitations in my hand lettering for her and she typed my thesis.

The first gift I gave my husband, when we were dating, was calligraphy. He had a grown-up job and loved spending money and gave me expensive gifts. I was a grad student and poor so I made do.

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I haven’t done any calligraphy in years. I am quite certain I couldn’t do it very well now because my hands are far creakier than they once were. The only calligraphy that’s still in the house is that little framed piece I did for Don.

I have found a new way to indulge my love of words, though. The hand embroidery I’ve been doing for the past three years or so has had a heavy focus on words. First, the cot to coffin quilt, with the multi-stanza song, and now the women’s rights quilt with embroidered quotes.

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Calligraphy and hand stitching are slow. Both provide the time to focus on and think about individual words and their meaning and their power.

I like thinking about the ways the words were used, the alliteration in the use of the “b” sound in Sojourner Truth’s quote, her analogy of the ballot box to a glass globe, fragile and transparent and perfect.

I think about why some sets of words persevere, catch our fancy, live on beyond the lives of the speakers.

I am inspired, motivated, and always moved by the words.

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my calligraphy and embroidery?

And what about you? Is there a theme or a kind of subject matter that you can see in your artwork or creative expression that has remained constant over the years?

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72 thoughts on ““It’s All About Me” Monday: The Words

    • Thank you so much for those nice comments! I’ve actually written a book and published articles, all in my academic life. The pressure involved with that makes me very content to write now just for pleasure.

  1. My expression is not as constant as yours. For most of my time in financial management, both education and career, I didn’t have a compelling outlet for creative expression. Almost all writing I did was in the service of my work. Besides that I struggled to find my means to create. I’ve been quilting for 13 years and that, also, was not comfortable at first. I also enjoy non-business writing. I feel very fortunate to have found my main niche in making, and writing as a secondary.

    As to your embroidery and calligraphy, splendid!

    • Writing is actually very secondary to making for me, too, it’s just that the words insist on being included, it seems! Although how that’s going to work in weaving, I’m not sure . . .

  2. My motor skills definitely have limits: I tried quilting (no) sewing clothes (nono), calligraphy (nonono) and crewel work (nonoetc) But knitting and illustrative drawing are really my thing, to put it in a popular phrase. I feel creative and comfortable and challenged at the same time. I can handle crochet, cross stitch and I love making dioramas…but knitting and drawing that’s where my heart lies. Btw motor skills are pretty unreliable : I was excellent at ballet (but too tall, to the despair of my teacher ” stop growing” she shouted) but could never learn ball room dancing and I epically fail at any sport. Your writing is so immensely beautiful and your embroidery…well I look with so much happiness at my own piece of original Kerry every day now! Xo Kerry

    • You’ve “shopped around” for the right creative outlets just like I have, Johanna! We just need to find the ones that click for us. I always wished I’d had some ballet training–I admire the way ballet dancers hold their bodies with such confidence.

  3. Enjoyed this post a lot. I learned to love words in my middle school years and took a speech class in high school. I miss them immensely. Your calligraphy is beautiful and I’m as fond as you for hand embroidery. Love that one you are working on. I don’t think there has been anything constant in my life much less my creative endeavors.

    • It’s interesting that, for most of us, there’s no real call for public speaking–I think that’s why people get so nervous when they’re called upon to do it. There are so many ways to surround ourselves with words, though!

  4. Here are some of my favorites:

    Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
    —Henry Ward Beecher

    I SHALL NOT CARE
    When I am dead and over me bright April
    Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
    Though you should lean above me broken-hearted,
    I shall not care.
    I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
    When rain bends down the bough;
    And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
    Than you are now.
    —Sara Teasdale (1884 – 1933)

    And this one is mine:
    Life oughtta come with an undo button.

    (I love your writing! Let me know if you need a copy editor after you’ve written the Next Great American Novel!) 😀

    • You’ll need to work on your embroidery, Eric, so you can commit those quotes to thread and fabric! 😉 If I ever write the Great American Novel, you’ll be the first to know (do NOT hold your breath!)

  5. You also bring up the power of the spoken word, where those lovely alliterative sounds can shine. By chance I watched President Obama’s farewell speech and was reminded how seldom we hear good oratory like that. Long ago I tried a calligraphy class, but was stymied by the lack of pens for lefties. Given that the craft requires patience, it’s probably all for the best. I love your embroidery, both the quote and the stitching.

    • The power of the spoken word is especially a part of what I studied and taught, and so endlessly fascinating. I can just imagine this year’s national conference in my discipline, with everyone presenting papers on Trump’s rhetorical style!

  6. I love your calligraphy, needlepoint, writing and the vast creativity that flows from every cell of your body and soul. My grandfather worked his way through college with copperplate writing. I’ve not found the patience to follow in his handprint, though my daughters have played around with calligraphy. What I love most…is that the creativity continues to flow – in you, in me, in us all. All we need to do is give it time and space, and beautiful things happen. Be it in the kitchen, on canvas, textiles, words, in the garden, in loving one another – love and creativity make life beautiful inside and out!

  7. I’ve always loved the way you write, but didn’t realise that you carried your love of words into speech too. My son loved debating and was good at it. While he was still at University, he was selected, with one other student, to spend some weeks on American campuses teaching debating skills. He had such a good time. If you’d been nearer his age than mine, you could have met him! I used to enjoy calligraphy too, but like you, haven’t done any for a long time. It doesn’t attract me any more I think. I’ve just joined a creative writing group, and I’m sure I shall blog about it soon, as the facilitator is such fun and so dynamic. At the moment, I’m re-writing Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jaberwocky’ which isn’t something I would have thought of doing, left to myself. Keep up the word-smithing!

    • When I was in college we were visited by a pair of British debaters, who were touring the country and putting n exhibition debates against local students! I remember that, while our debaters were focused on building and argument and marshaling evidence, the British were more focused on using language in compelling and witty ways! It was so fun! And I can’t wait to hear more about your writing course!

  8. I always enjoy reading your posts Kerry – and finding out about another level of your talent and abilities. I too love words – the richness of language has attracted me since I was very young. So much so, that at the age of 12 my favourite aunt took down her great leather bound volume of Shakespeare, placed it carefully on the table and opened to a particular page, inviting me into a world that changed my life. I tell this story often, more to illustrate how one caring adult can influence a shy child than anything else. As a teacher I took ‘the play within a play’ from my first encounter with the great man and in turn introduced him to the young teens in my care – and so the wheel turns 🙂

    Language has played such a great role in my life both public and private it is no surprise to me. now that you have caused me to think about it, that my art work nearly always includes words.

    I am convinced that when our ability to express ourselves appropriately with words falls short, so also does our understanding of ourselves and others. I sigh over exclamations of ‘That was a complete disaster!’ ‘That was so horrendous!’ and ‘I’m so depressed!’ when what is really meant is ‘That was a bit of a challenge.’ ‘That was a shock to see’ and ‘I’m feeling sad/grief/unhappy.’ But I digress ……… I do love your embroidery and your early calligraphy. It’s such a shame is it not, that there is a lack of hours in the day to fit in all the things we would like to do……

    • You do, indeed, use words in your art–when I think of what I’ve seen of it, I can see that!! That’s a wonderful story about your aunt introducing you to the wordsmith of all wordsmiths. And, yes, if there were only about 10 more usable hours per day, I might be able to get done everything I want to!

    • That’s interesting because, although I use color in quilting and weaving, it’s usually subdued color or just, say, two colors, rather than lots of adventurous color.

  9. Beautiful work as ever, Kerry. I love the meditative effect of calligraphy and can see how this would map across to the stitching of words. Where would we crafters and bloggers be without our beloved words! 🙂

      • I guess they must be. It’s such an important platform for everything else. Even if one remembers that just because something is called, say, a tree, that is only a label and not the thing itself. You have reminded me of a vague idea that has been percolating inside me for ages now – to learn Gaelic and use this beautiful language to inspire design. I must revive my thoughts and see where they take me! 🙂

  10. Is there no end to your talents, lady? My goodness, what beautiful calligraphy – and your hand sewing is well-nigh perfect! With such a full career it doesn’t surprise me now that you feel the need to fill your time creatively in your retirement.
    I think that the one stable source of inspiration for me through my life has been the natural world. I have always been drawn towards images of flowers, insects, birds and so on though not in an anthropomorphic way. My favourite books and poems as a child were ones that had animals and the countryside in. I remember my most successful paintings and embroidery at school were of flowers and birds. The last sketches I did (many years ago now) were a mouse and a duck. I now blog mainly about the natural world around me and I try to photograph it. A new interest is architecture.
    Thank-you Kerry. Your posts always make me consider my life, my motives, my likes and dislikes.

    • I can absolutely see, from reading your posts, that the natural world is your inspiration! And it’s interesting to hear how it has been for such a long time and in so many different ways. And, yes, during my whole career, I wished to be making things and using my hands and seeing a project develop–I am in heaven now!

  11. Beautiful. I think a generation that spent years perfecting cursive handwriting can certainly appreciate calligraphy work. I’m guessing not too far in the future younger generations will look at it and be able to read it about as well as they can Chinese characters. Shame in my humble opinion. 🙂 Where do you find the lovely pattern you are using for your work? Thank you.

    • I just found this comment in the spam folder, Judy! Sorry! Are you asking about the pattern I use for the embroidery? I do it on my computer, just what I want, and color the words a pale brown then print it on fabric. I iron the fabric on freezer paper, cut it to 8.5 by 11, and run it through the printer!

  12. Yes – I love your calligraphy (and that is one of my favorite joke ads for the yellow pages from many moons ago)! I have this log cabin quilt for my son (working title: The Advice Quilt) which includes brief bits of embroidered sayings from his grandparents. It’s a work in progress for sure. Neither my husband or I knew our parents for very long, but they had a lot to say. I just want to make sure our son hears it too.

    • Oh, good!! Someone who remembers that ad! That was a very clever ad campaign! Your advice quilt sounds brilliant–fun and nostalgic and sweet. I hope we’ll get to see it sometime!

  13. You are a multi talented woman…the calligraphy is lovely. It must be difficult to do. I know when I am writing a card or letter (I still do send handwritten cards and letters) and I’m concentrating on my writing, it looks worse than if I just quickly wrote without thinking. I don’t know why that happens but it does.

    • Calligraphy is just like everything else–it gets better and easier with practice. And, yes, you need to practice enough so that you can kind of do it without thinking about it, just like regular handwriting. My hands just cramp too much now to enjoy it.

  14. Your embroidery detail is wonderful, as is your calligraphy. I love the different styles of calligraphy; they make the words into art, so when the words are memorable too, there is even more to enjoy and contemplate.

  15. I’m so glad you love words…for I love to read. 🙂 so keep on loving those words!!I’m not good with words in writing or speaking, and I’m really happy to type out something as sometimes I cannot even read my own writing. I think your gift of lovely calligraphy was a delightful idea.

    • I’m so glad you alerted me the fact that your comments were disappearing! You and two other regular commenters had been consigned to the spam folder! Thanks for your kind words–I think your blog is lovely just the way it is–you use words in a way that’s authentic and sincere. I feel like I can hear you talking!

  16. I love that you love words,and I like reading those words. :)) I’m not good with words in writing or speech. Your calligraphy gift is a lovely one.

  17. My writing touchstone is collage. Not in the disciplined way of quilt making but in in an abstract way in which memories or phrases merge mysteriously to make a whole. I also make greeting cards with scraps that remind me if the recipient — who knows why.

  18. I love words, too. Playing with them like shiny little beads, stringing them together in fun and unexpected ways. The physical aspect of writing has intrigued me in the last couple of years and I keep thinking I’ll “take” an old-fashioned writing course–the kind you’d find in a turn-of-the-century classroom. Writing was so uniform yet beautiful back then. There are all sorts of resources for this online. (Gotta love the internets for finding odd and useful things.) Your calligraphy and quilting are perfectly lovely. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Oh, the power of words. If animals had the vocal ability to speak, wouldn’t this be a different world? And to make speech transferable through writing … we are a fortunate species. I had to laugh at your teenager handwriting explorations, having gone through something similar. I was enamored with the handwriting of my European penpals and adopted a swirly German-style capital “H” that I still use today.
    When I was young, I made things. Spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, gardening, building–all kinds of hand work. In my late thirties, I went back to school and entered a career that was built on words and persuasion. It was mentally stimulating and creative in its own way, but I no longer had time to make things with my hands. After I retired, I blissfully returned to all those making-thing interests of my early years. No constant creative expression for me. Rather, a see-saw of interests. The only constant has been my love of words through reading–that wonderful, satisfying companion that has been with me through everything.

      • I forgot to say (because my response was all about me, of course) that your course in critical evaluation of persuasive messages should be taught to everyone at the high school level. I fear that the critical thinking part of society’s brain is shrinking from lack of exercise.

      • I agree–I always said that, if there were just one course I could require of all undergraduate students, it would be a course like the one I taught, which was an elective. And the need for such skills grows every day, it seems.

  20. I love the idea of embroidering words. What a great way to explore the actual physicality of language, and also to depict the words in a way that contributes to conveying their meaning. Given what is coming at the end of this week in the US, the Sojourner Truth quote in your photo is an excellent choice.

    • Given what’s happening here, all my other quotes have given me a lot to think about, too–I have quotes by Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Margaret Sanger, Malala, Susan B. Anthony, Maya Angelou, etc. The project has sustained me in some ways, through these crazy days . . . .

  21. Being quite comfortable in the 19th century, I still hand write letters. I’m not sure that the recipients are always so pleased to try to decipher my penmanship. When my nephew was in the Marines, he said he enjoyed my letters because there were more difficult than figuring out code.
    Oscar

  22. I greatly prefer the written word to the spoken. I’m one of those who shudders at the thought of public speaking. I recently went to a moving sale and thought – one thing I don’t need is more books. Yet I walked away with 4 books, including a book about words and their origins (Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds).

    I’m amazed at the wide variety of crafts you’ve made! I’m wondering if there’s anything you haven’t tried that’s on your “someday” list.

    • Ummm . . . well, weaving was on that list for the longest time. Now, I’m not sure–I’ve tried a lot, many I haven’t written about yet. Felting interests me a little. I can see the appeal of wood working . . .

  23. The whole handlettering trend is right up my alley. Way back, when I was a kid calligraphy was a hobby that was frowned upon (it wasn’t something the cool kids did). Different kinds of pens are widely available now, and I like to treat myself to new supplies every now and then. Your blog is so enjoyable, and I love whatever it is you have to share. I enjoy your style of writing and choice of words. That’s one of the talents I don’t have, but wish I had (just like drawing, or making merengues).

  24. Your field of study sounds completely fascinating! Some of it sounds similar to Philosophy in the way that you’re encouraged to break down arguments into their component parts. I’ve never thought of myself of someone that’s good with words, so we’ve always had an uneasy relationship. As I’ve put more effort into the words on my blog, we’re becoming friends although I’ll never be a writer. I LOVE your embroidered words, they are so delicate! x

    • The fields of Philosophy and Rhetoric have been intertwined since the days of Socrates and Plato! And don’t be too quick to dismiss your writing–I’ve seen a change in just the time I’ve been reading your blog. You’re much better at expressing difficult ideas now, I think. That growth will continue your whole life!

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